No. 25 UCLA (13-3, 2-1) at No. 21 Colorado (14-3, 3-1)
Coors Events Center, Thursday, 5 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Ted Robinson, Don MacLean, Jill Savage)
Radio: AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Tracy Murray)
No. 1: Can Colorado still compete without Spencer Dinwiddie? The Buffs have enough talent and a capable coach in Tad Boyle that an NCAA tournament berth isn’t out of the question. But losing their leader in scoring (14.7), assists (3.8), steals (1.5) and 3-point shooting (26 made, at a .413 clip) is a blow that no cumulative effort from the rest of the roster can replace.
Fellow guard Askia Booker already leads the team with 197 field goals attempted — 66 more than Dinwiddie — and is only shooting .381 from the field. More shots for him wouldn’t bode well for the offense as a whole. Dinwiddie attempted 119 free throws, over a fifth of the team’s total. Booker has 60.
Freshman forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher is also sidelined with a knee injury, which further sets UCLA’s bench up for a significant advantage. With Jaron Hopkins now in the starting lineup, Colorado doesn’t have a reserve that averages more than 3.6 points per game, and only two with more than 1.9. The three bench players with at least 12 field goal attempts this season are a combined 38.2 percent from the field.
No. 2: How will the Bruins fare on the road? On average, the Coors Events Center draws 9,489 fans per game, more than any other venue in the conference except Utah’s Huntsman Center (9,551) and Arizona’s McKale Center (14,358). On Thursday, 8,000 will be handed free T-shirts as part of the program’s “White Out” effort.
UCLA is still looking for a big, momentum-seizing win, and doing so before what will likely be a packed house would push the Bruins firmly into the No. 2 vacancy behind Arizona.
No. 3: Can UCLA keep improving on the boards? It held its own last week against the best rebounding team in the conference (Arizona) before completely crushing the worst (Arizona State). Colorado will offer a good measuring stick as to whether or not that uptick was an anomaly.
The Buffs are second in the Pac-12 with a +8.7 rebounding margin, not too far behind the Wildcats’ +10.7. Their efficacy on the offensive glass is particularly impressive: grabbing 36.9 percent of available rebounds on that end puts them at 39th in the country; no other team in the league besides Arizona (eighth) places top-100 in the nation.
Key for the Bruins will be limiting 6-foot-10 forward Josh Scott. The sophomore will become more of a focal point for the Buffs inside without Dinwiddie, and is the Pac-12’s sixth-best offensive rebounder (12.8 percent). UCLA guards have improved on the boards as the season rolls on, but if center Tony Parker can stay out of foul trouble, the team will have someone who can physically match up with Scott.
Colorado starting five
F Wesley Gordon, 6-9, 225, RSFr., 7.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 apg
F Xavier Johnson, 6-7, 220, So,, 10.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.9 spg
F Josh Scott, 6-10, 245, So., 13.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg
G Askia Booker, 6-2, 170, Jr., 13.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg
G Jaron Hopins, 6-5, 190, Fr., 5.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.9 apg